Knives, forks, spoons…baking cutters. Tuck into Northern Ireland’s fascinating food!
I’m sitting down at 8.30am in Belfast and having a ‘when in Rome, eat how the locals eat’ moment. “If there’s a breakfast of champions,” my server advises “it has to be the Ulster Fry”. That’s fried bacon, eggs, tomato, potato bread and soda farls. Soda farls? I nod and scan the lunch page. Guinness bread? Dulse? Oysters with champ? As a Dubliner, I was going to need a little local translation…
Champ, as my lovely head waiter explained, is a tasty blend of floury potatoes, scallions (Spring onions) and butter, and it’s usually spooned up beside a fresh dish of seafood. Dulse is a dried edible seaweed used by star chef Paul Rankin and proudly offered at the Auld Lammas Fair in Antrim where, by the way, you’ll also find the deliciously sweet chewy toffee ‘yellow man’. The 17% Black Stuff is responsible for the rich malty taste of Guinness bread and is just one of the many creations of the deep-rooted baking traditions that are thriving in Northern Ireland.
Back to the soda farl: the distinctive triangular scones of soda bread, perfect for soaking up gravy and runny egg yolk. The simple recipe, unchanged for hundreds of years, lists bread soda (bicarbonate of soda), buttermilk, flour and salt. They say the bread doesn’t travel well, which is quite convienent as Northern Ireland is worth the trip for the soda farls alone.
As a hungry writer from The Times discovered while chowing down in Morton’s Fish & Chip shop in County Antrim, one of the secrets of Northern Ireland’s gastronomical alchemy is the local ingredients. “The fish on ice are all fresh off last night’s boats. The lobsters are stirring lazily and even the prawns are still moving.”
Food festivals are another foodie attraction up here: the perfect blend of de rigour munching, merriness and music. One of the prettiest urban settings has to be the lush Botanic Gardens for five days of alfresco dining at Belfast’s Taste and Music Fest in August. While the renowned Hillsborough Oyster Festival shucks exactly what it says on the tin. And there’s shucking like regular folk, and ‘shucking’ Colin Shirlow from Dromore-style. This guy makes an annual appearance as the undefeated Guinness World Oyster Eating champion – he ate 233 oysters in 3 minutes! When in Rome, lunch as the locals do I guess!
Learn more about the Flavours of Ireland
Belfast Taste & Music Fest 2010 takes place in Botanic Gardens, Belfast, from 4 – 8 August
Hillsborough Oyster Festival takes place in Belfast from 2 – 5 September 2010